Guild Wars 2 Does Free to Play the Right Way

When it comes to MMORPGs that are out today, there are not that many examples of games that do things the right way. Guild Wars 2 is one of those, though, and it truly excels at what it does. Prior to the game being launched I did have my doubts about how viable the model was going to be (and so did many others), but Guild Wars 2 has been holding its own and has made me a very happy player. Through this article I am going to be looking at why the game is so awesome and what other game publishers can learn from them. With the general trend moving towards games being free to play, this is of major importance because what other companies learn or do not learn is going to continue to affect us all.

Cash Shops: Dos and Do Nots

The biggest part of free to play games is their cash shops. This is where they get their money from, and without it they can not continue running or developing their game. This puts the cash shops as being a centralized part of the gaming experience, and how well a publisher handles this will easily determine the fate of their game (and whether or not players like it). So let us look at different areas and how Guild Wars 2 handles them in the right (and possibly wrong) ways.

Selling Items That Affect Others

A big fear of players when a game goes free to play (or is released on a free to play model) is that there will be items sold in the shop that grant advantages over other players. This could be straight up gear sales or things like gear enhancements. These things end up creating a very imbalanced game, where the players who have the most money in real life end up with the greatest benefits within the game. For us more hardcore gamers, we believe that games should reward those who understand and play the game the best, rather than those who have the most cash sitting in a bank account somewhere. This difference is massive, and it creates a separation between players that most of us agree should not be there.

Luckily, Guild Wars 2 resorts to only items that will affect your own character but do not have an impact on the game for anyone else. The only exception for this would be, to a point, the gathering tools. These, though, cost more in a gold cost (if you were to convert gold to gems) than just buying the gathering tools would. So when it really comes down to it, while these tools are available they are more about the convenience factor than they are a useful part of the game. They are far from being needed, and you can do just fine even without them.

Selling Gems

Rather than forcing players to buy their gems (the currency for the cash shop in Guild Wars 2), you can buy them off other players. There is a trading system built in to the game where you can trade gold for gems or gems for gold. This lets you use your time in the game farming to equate to real benefits by letting you buy items right off of the cash shop! Anything that can be bought with cash can also be bought using your gold (after converting it to the gems).

Now, there is one aspect of this that some players are for and some are against. The entire trading system for gold and gems is centralized. It is all handled through algorithms in the game, where the prices for gems will go up as more people purchase them and the price goes down as more people sell them. The issue here is that it is not the market that is really choosing the prices; if it were, the prices could hit one area that they stay stable at, regardless as to how many people are buying or selling their gems. So really, it is ArenaNet that is picking the prices, and there is no real clarification as to how the prices are chosen (for example, we can not use them to determine how many gems are being bought and sold). Even so, just having the option to do this is a massive benefit, and it is something I hope more games will start picking up on. While I am not against what some games do by allowing people to buy items and sell those, or simply gift items to someone through the cash shop, I like the idea of cutting out that middle step and allowing us to buy gems as we are able to and then save up for the items we want to buy the most. Having more control over my money is important, and I know I am not the only one that feels that way.

Making Sales

Guild Wars 2 often has sales on items. It is not clear how they determine what will be on sale or for how much, but there is pretty much always something you can buy on sale. While the items that are usually on sale are not of much interest to me, I do think it is an awesome deal for those who are wanting those items. What would make it better, though, is a sneak peek of what is coming up on the sale listing, kind of like when we buy the Sunday paper and it lets us know what will be on sale for the next week. This helps with deciding when you should save gems up instead of spending them, and you can then maximize the purchases. This ends up leading to increased value of the gems, which leads to more of them being bought. It is an all around awesome deal to everyone.

Another cool thing that ArenaNet could add to the sales would be to allow players to vote on the next sales. For example, have a few different items out there with proposed costs. Then set it up for that week so we can each vote (one per account) and at the end of the week that sale would start and the next vote would start (or every two weeks, every month, etc.). This would offer up two new benefits: it would allow players to take part in the game and have an increased amount of say and it would also work to get more players involved in the cash shop, increasing the chances that they will find things they are interested in and make purchases. We already see these things in other areas. Chick Fil A, for example, has their yearly calendar. One of the benefits to this is that there is a freebie on one of the months that we get to vote on. It may not be something majorly important, but it is nice to be included in decisions like this.

Cycling Items

The items that are for sale in Guild Wars 2 are changing out every once in a while. What is available right now when you log in may not necessarily still be there tomorrow. And then it could return a couple weeks after that. It is almost like going to a grocery store that has random stock times and no clue as to when more of what you are looking for will be coming in. You end up having to just hang out and hope for the best, watching what is for sale from day to day and snagging things as you need them so you do not end up needing them and not have them available again.

This method of offering up things for sale has a couple of different benefits. It keeps players following the cash shop to see what is available and when it is available and it also causes people to do panic spending. Both of these are beneficial to the game as a whole, as they help increase the revenue the game is generating and in turn add in to the speed of development we experience within it. All of this benefits us, even though it does not require everyone to keep spending money in the shop.


Guild Wars 2 is a great example of how to run a free to play game. Whether the game is starting out free or it is moving over from a subscription based model, this is an excellent role model and should be used for helping shape decisions. Guild Wars 2 proves that you can legitimately benefit both the players and the developers or publishers without anyone losing in the situation. This keeps the players happy, allows the game continue to run, and allows the safety of being able to deal with hiring and other processes that speed up our content generation. All of this working in unison makes for an awesome experience that is rarely seen in the gaming industry any more. Now we just have to hope that ArenaNet uses what they have learned in their future games to provide other awesome experiences! If they do, I will fully support their next projects and give them a go.


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